An Empty Place (The Final Chapter)
Dear Lancerettes: This is the last chapter to a story that began as a simple thought over a year ago. Through the encouragement of those who read the story, it evolved into a five-year span in the life of the Lancers, and concludes in a defining moment between the brothers that will determine whether their love is strong enough to overcome the loss of the most important thing in the world to Johnny: Trust. In his Brother.
Please note that the previous three chapters should be read to fully understand this chapter. I have included, to refresh everyone’s memory, the last few paragraphs of Chapter Three, Life Goes On, and begins as Scott arrives home after his lengthy absence.
So sit back and enjoy this final saga. . .and I hope I don’t disappoint.
END OF CHAPTER THREE OF AN EMPTY PLACE: LIFE GOES ON
Scott Garrett Lancer sat atop of the same hill that his brother had a month earlier, overlooking his home. Lancer. It was, truly, ‘the most beautiful place in the whole wide world.’ And he had missed it so.
He had arrived in Morro Coyo the day before, and wired his family he would be arriving the next day. He spent the night at the Morro Coyo Inn, for he needed that time to give himself that little extra bit of courage he so badly felt he needed. Besides, he wanted to ride into Lancer alone; to organize his thoughts, to take everything in. He rented a buckboard at the livery and felt a peace come over him as he made his way down the hill and through the Lancer arch.
To his family. . . .
Murdoch had written him a lengthy letter informing him of the events of the past five years: Johnny’s illness and hasty marriage; the epidemic and the death of Jelly; the fact that Scott was now an uncle to Johnny’s daughter and son; and a brother-in-law to Teresa’s husband. Scott marveled at the thought that life at Lancer had moved on, while his life had been at a standstill the past five years.
But he knew he would never regret the decision he made. . . .
He felt like a visitor as he made his way to the house, and was a bit surprised when one of the hands greeted him like a long-lost friend. Scott warily returned the greeting, for he didn’t remember the Mexican man’s name.
His heart pounded as he made his way to the heavy wooden door, knowing his home, his family, was on the other side. He stood there for a second, remembering the time he would enter without even thinking about it.
Now, he was nervous as hell. . . .
He knocked on the door; a loud, confident knock, and he wondered who would answer. Those few seconds seemed like hours, when finally, the door opened. . .
AN EMPTY PLACE: THE RETURN
(THE FINAL CHAPTER)
. . . . and the large person that was Murdoch Lancer appeared.
Blue eyes met blue eyes, and there was a short, but comforting, silence.
“Scott,” Murdoch quietly said. “It’s so good to see you. Welcome home.”
“Thank you, sir. . .I mean, Murdoch. I’ve missed you all.”
“And we have missed you, Son.”
The two shook hands, but then, Murdoch suddenly grabbed his son, and brought Scott to him. Scott felt the strong arms around him, the tight but comforting squeeze, and he allowed himself to return a heartfelt squeeze to his father.
After a few seconds, Murdoch looked Scott in the eyes. “You look a little tired. Long ride, huh?” But what he was thinking was, You look so tired and pale, Son. What has happened to you the past five years?
“It was a long trip, especially the last few days,” Scott responded.
“Well, come in, come in,” Murdoch laughed, and the two entered the home. Scott took it all in: the sights, the smells, the feeling of comfort. He noted that everything was about the same: the grandfather’s clock, his father’s model ships, the knick-knacks, and of course, the desk.
He noted the furniture was new, though, and there were pictures of a pretty little girl and a cute little boy that hadn’t been there before.
“Would you like a drink, Scott?” Murdoch asked, and both father and son laughed at the memory of the question that had been asked a long time ago. Only not as politely.
“Yes, I think I would,” the younger man replied. After a few more minutes, Scott’s excitement got the best of him.
“Where is everybody? I thought they would. . . .”
“Scott!” came the excited squeal from the young woman who darted from the kitchen toward her brother.
“Teresa! It’s so good to see you! You look. . . .”
He didn’t finish his sentence as she grabbed him around the neck and hugged him. He returned the hug, then looked at the young woman who was no longer a little girl.
“You look beautiful! You’re.. . .” he exclaimed, eyes wide with surprise.
“Yes, I know,” Teresa giggled. “I didn’t want you to know, I wanted it to be a surprise,” she said, gently patting her protruding tummy.
“In August. Chuck and I can’t wait. . .it’s been a long struggle. . . oh, my, Chuck, this is Scott. . .my brother,” Teresa introduced the two, beaming in every sense of the word. “Scott, this is him!” she announced with pride, hugging her husband.
The two handsome blond men shook hands, each displaying sparkling smiles and a friendly greeting to one another. Scott couldn’t help but feel a little bit jealous, though, of the young man who, it seemed, had replaced him in his own family.
For five years, anyway.
“Scott, I want you to meet Sara. . .Johnny’s wife,” Murdoch proudly announced.
Scott turned around and smiled at the pretty blonde woman in front of him.
“Hello, Sara. My little brother is one lucky man.”
“Scott. . .” Sara breathed, walked toward him and hugged him. She whispered so only Scott could hear, “He’s missed you so much.”
After their embrace, Sara countered Scott’s statement. “I’m the lucky one. To have Johnny in my life, and all of you. . . .”
“Mama,” came a quiet voice from the little girl tugging at her mother’s dress.
“And this. . .” Sara introduced, “is Miss Mariah Jeannie Lancer. She’s been waiting to meet you.”
Scott kneeled down and looked into the child’s sapphire eyes—his brother’s eyes—and he was in love.
“Miss Mariah Jeannie Lancer. I am honored to meet you, Miss. You are one lovely lady,” and sweetly kissed the little girl on the cheek.
“Mama, he so han. .some,” Mariah declared.
“Yes, dear, he is,” Sara agreed.
Some small talk followed, but Scott was obviously looking for the only member of the family who wasn’t there. Well, two members actually.
“Scott. .your brother is upstairs. It seems our son picked an inopportune time to have his diaper changed,” Sara announced, a bit embarrassed.
“Johnny? Changing diapers?” Scott asked, more than a little amused. “I can’t believe that!”
A soft, but curt voice from behind him spoke. “Believe it, Brother.”
At that, Scott turned around and looked at the brother he hadn’t seen in five years. A lump formed in his throat as he sized him up, looking so mature, so confident, holding his squirming, active son in his arms.
Scott slowly walked toward Johnny, and smiled at the little boy his brother held.
“Are you going to introduce us?” Scott softly inquired.
“Scott, meet Scott Jr. Or Buck as we call him. Buck, this is your Uncle Scott.”
Johnny handed the child to his brother, and Scott hugged him tightly, kissing him on his golden head.
“He’s beautiful, Johnny. Your whole family is. . . you’ve done well, Brother.” Scott’s voice was shaking. Johnny was unmoved.
Buck was squirming, so Scott put him down and the child scurried to his mother. Scott extended his hand to his brother, and reluctantly, Johnny took it, and they shook hands.
Scott initiated a small embrace, which Johnny accepted, but not without whispering in Scott’s ear, “Where the hell you been, Brother?”
Scott recognized the voice, and the look, of Johnny.
Johnny Madrid. . . . .
A beautiful ‘Welcome Home’ Dinner was planned for Scott, with Lancer’s finest china and accessories being used, and his favorite foods being served, along with some Mexican dishes that, to his surprise, he had missed. It reminded him so much of that first dinner, six years ago, when two young strangers sat at this mammoth dining room table for the first time.
But at this dinner, the only stranger, Scott mused, was himself. Everyone in this family had their place, their sense of belonging, from Johnny and Murdoch as the heads of their families; to Teresa and Chuck; to Sara and the two youngest Lancers, Mariah and Buck.
Scott Garrett Lancer never felt so out of place in his life.
However, unlike that first dinner six years earlier, the atmosphere this time was relaxed and pleasant. Scott couldn’t help but notice the laughter and closeness among the family members.
He marveled at the maturity, the confidence, if you will, that his brother possessed. He remembered the times when Johnny was the one who felt out of place, who questioned his place in this family. The love between Johnny and his wife was evident; you could see it in their eyes, in their body language. And the love they felt for their children was obvious as well.
What amazed Scott the most, however, was the relationship between his father and brother. The trust, the respect, the love that these two gained for each other the past five years made Scott proud.
But while the relationship between his father and brother gladdened Scott’s heart, the relationship between his brother and Chuck, his brother-in-law, brought out a resentment Scott didn’t know he possessed. The two bantered and teased one another, just like he and Johnny used to do. And when he heard Johnny call Chuck ‘brother,’ in a tone much lighter then Johnny had referred to Scott earlier, the heart of the older Lancer son became laden with sadness.
His place of worth in his own family was shattered some more, when he was led to his room, but it wasn’t “his” room. . .it was the room that had been Teresa’s before her marriage. Sara had explained to Scott that Johnny had taken over his old room after he left all those years ago, and after their marriage, they made it their room. It was fixed all pretty like, she chuckled, and then after their own home was built, Chuck and Teresa moved in. Johnny’s old room had been Mariah and Buck’s nursery, and was now being prepared for Teresa and Chuck’s baby. So, the only room left for use by the family was Teresa’s old room.
It wasn’t so much that Scott cared which room he was in, but it seemed that in every sense of the word, Chuck had taken over his place at Lancer. . . .right down to the bedroom he slept in!!
Shortly after his return, Scott, with the signature approval of Chuck and Teresa, regained his rightful ownership of Lancer, much to Johnny’s annoyance. Murdoch informed Scott, however, that he, and Johnny, called the tune. He explained that Johnny had earned that right over the past five years, and although Scott was the elder son, it was Johnny’s word, along with Murdoch’s, that prevailed. Murdoch informed Scott that when he ‘earned back’ his place at Lancer, he, along with himself and Johnny, would call the tune.
The next several weeks saw Scott getting his life back together. . from regaining the respect of the hands, getting reacquainted with the neighbors, visiting the dusty little town of Morro Coyo that had grown the past five years, even spending time in the saloon and Mr. Baldemero’s store.
Scott also spent this time with Murdoch getting caught up on the events of Lancer the past five years. He was saddened as he was told, in detail, about the measles epidemic that tore through the community, the tragic death of Jelly, and how Johnny almost succumbed as well. Scott learned about the difficult time Johnny had adjusting to his sudden absence and the pneumonia that nearly took him; he was told about Johnny’s hasty marriage, and how the marriage had almost ended after a few short months, but that Johnny and Sara had straightened things out and had their two children. Scott also learned of Chuck and Teresa’s difficulties in starting a family and their being turned down by the adoption agency; of Murdoch’s surgery; and how Johnny grew and matured during all these catastrophes to become the respected husband, father, and rancher he now was.
Scott was so proud of his little brother. And, he couldn’t help himself, a little envious as well.
June turned into July, and at the annual Fourth of July celebration, Scott became reacquainted with Elizabeth Lawson Miller, the librarian who had taken one Sara Lane under her wing before she became Sara Lancer. Elizabeth and Scott had become friends about six months into his first ‘homecoming,’ and she was visibly shaken when the object of her affection had up and left so quickly. Every time she saw Johnny, she would inquire about his older brother, but the younger Lancer had nothing to report. Eventually, she met and married Bob Miller, and shortly afterward, the couple moved away.
The marriage didn’t work out, though, and Mrs. Miller returned to Morro Coyo two years later, a disgraced divorcee to some. Rumor had it that Mr. Miller was none to gentle with his wife, and it was well known she had never gotten over Scott. Since their reacquaintance, they had spent as much time together as their lives would permit, and the Lancer patriarch, as well as the entire Lancer family, welcomed the relationship, as they knew of the difficult circumstances of Elizabeth’s marriage.
By August, Scott more or less felt at home. He had fallen easily back into ranch life; it was almost as if he had never left it. His relationship with his father was back on track, and his personal life with Elizabeth was flourishing; as was his social obligations with the neighboring ranchers and the members of the Cattleman’s Association. He had even begun to feel at ease with Chuck, as he witnessed the special care he gave to Teresa, as her pregnancy was what was considered “high risk.” And his relationship with Sara and the kids was great. Scott doted on Johnny’s children, and many a meal he was invited to—by Sara—at the home of his brother.
During these times with family, Johnny seemed to be like himself, teasing his brother and being the ‘little brother’ Scott had grown to love. But once Sara and the children were gone, the ‘new’ Johnny returned: the brother that seemed downright hostile toward his older sibling. Scott knew what Johnny wanted, for Johnny had made it quite clear: ‘Scott, just tell me why. . .why you never contacted us, why you just shut us out of your life. All I want is a reason, Scott. Don’t matter what it is, I just want to know why.’ It seemed like such a little thing, really, but Scott knew he could never tell his brother the reason. And Scott wondered if things would ever be the same between them.
It was the middle of August when Teresa went into labor. The joy and excitement of the long-awaited birth turned into fear and anxiety as Dr. Jenkins advised Chuck and the Lancers that Teresa and the baby were in extreme distress, and that he feared for them. After several hours of hard, painful labor, Chuck was asked to make the most difficult decision a husband could be asked: if only one could be saved, which one should it be?
Chuck and Dr. Jenkins had discussed the matter privately, so no one ever knew of the decision Chuck had made, although one could speculate it was Teresa that he would ask to be spared.
For the next 16 hours, Murdoch, Johnny, and Scott held a vigil in the great room with Chuck, trying not to listen to the agonizing sounds of the young woman they all loved so much. Sara, along with Maria, the ever-faithful housekeeper, and Mrs. Harper, the mid-wife, took turns in assisting an exhausted Dr. Jenkins in the care of Teresa. Finally, in the surreal hours between dusk and dawn, an anguished scream came from the room upstairs, and a few seconds later, the soft sounds of a baby’s cries. An exhausted Sara came down the stairs with a wiggling bundle wrapped in a pink blanket, and she walked over to Chuck.
“Say hello to your daughter, Chuck. She’s perfect. . . .just perfect. Doc thinks she’s about eight pounds.” With tear-filled eyes, Chuck carefully took the baby in his arms. “Hello Paulina Charlene. She’s named after her grandpa, and her daddy,” he quietly explained. Then with fear in his voice, he could only choke out one word: “Teresa?”
Sara looked down at the floor, then looked over at Johnny with sadness in her tired blue eyes. Finally she answered Chuck’s angst-ridden question. “We don’t know, Chuck. She’s had a very, very rough time, she’s lost a lot of blood, and she’s terribly weak. Doc Jenkins says he’s done all he can, that it’s up to the Lord now.”
And at that, Chuck handed baby Paulina to Sara, and cried, unashamed, as the strong arms of Murdoch Lancer caressed his son-in-law. Johnny went to Chuck as well and comforted him, then went and held baby Paulina in his arms.
Scott stood on the sidelines, feeling an outsider as his father and brother comforted the young man who had become such an integral part of the family.
After a few minutes, Murdoch, with Chuck’s grateful approval, accompanied his son-in-law to Teresa’s room. Johnny stepped outside onto the veranda to be alone with his grief. He felt the presence of his brother behind him and sighed. Scott couldn’t help but pick up on his brother’s annoyance at his presence.
“This should be such a happy time for them, the birth of the child they’ve waited so long for. It doesn’t seem fair that this should be happening to her. . .to them,” Scott said softly to his brother. But in reality, he felt like he was talking to himself.
“Why should you care?” came the cold, hard reply from Johnny. “ You were livin’ high in Boston, remember? You have no right, no right, to express concern for anyone that lives here on this ranch. You sure as hell didn’t care about any of us the past five years. You don’t know us, Brother. You never did. . . .Why don’t you go back to where you came from? You don’t belong here. . . .you never did, and you never will!”
And at that, Johnny Lancer turned around and marched to his house. His home.
At that moment, Scott wanted nothing more than to wring his brother’s neck. But in reality, all Scott could do was sigh. He’ll never forgive me, never, Scott cried to himself. And he began to realize that the time may come when he will have to tell his brother what he did in Boston for the past five years. After all, it was the only way to get him back.
Or lose him forever. . . . .
For the next week, the nerves of everyone at Lancer were frayed as Teresa hovered near death. Dr. Jenkins just about put up residence there, leaving Teresa’s bedside only when necessary to take care of other patients, which fortunately, were few and far between.
Baby Paulina thrived, with the wet-nurse brought in by Chuck to nourish the child, and with the maternal actions of Sara. Chuck did the best he could, but his thoughts were on his wife, and he hardly noticed the baby girl with the soft brown eyes of her mother.
Through it all, however, there was a ranch to run, and plans had to be made for the upcoming cattle drive. It was obvious Chuck wouldn’t be going, and Johnny expressed concern to Murdoch about the inexperienced hands that would be making the trip. Murdoch had promised to hire some experienced drovers, and the Lancer patriarch expressed his utmost confidence in the capabilities of his younger son to lead a successful drive.
Nine days after Paulina’s birth, the Lancer ranch was given the best news it had ever received: Dr. Jenkins announced that Teresa was out of the woods, that the young woman was going to recover and be fine. He advised she would be weak for a long time, and prescribed complete bed rest for the next month, but that by Christmas, the Chuck Matthews family should be as good as new.
He did advise Chuck, though, that their family be limited to Paulina; that for Teresa to risk another child would be suicide. Teresa was informed of this, and seemed to handle the news well, as did Chuck. But for now, there was reason for celebration at the Lancer ranch.
With everyone feeling relief over the good news about Teresa, the running of the ranch returned to normal. The next evening, Johnny sat down with his father to talk business. Murdoch informed his son that he hired four additional, experienced drovers for the drive, and that his brother would be joining them as well.
Johnny stared at his father. “Murdoch, we all know Chuck won’t be going on any cattle drive.”
“Johnny, I said your brother was going, not your brother-in-law,” Murdoch advised curtly.
Johnny became argumentative, claiming his brother was nothing but a Boston green-horn who had been on one cattle drive in his life six years ago, and that his presence would only hinder what was already expected to be a difficult drive. His father countered, stating Scott was excited about the drive, that he didn’t forget what he had learned on that first drive, and that he was more than capable of pulling his weight. Murdoch Lancer reminded his volatile younger son that this time, he called the tune.
And Scott Lancer was going. . . .End of discussion.
As Johnny predicted, the cattle drive was difficult. Unusually cold, rainy weather made for a muddy trip, with many of the men getting colds, coughs, and the chills. But Johnny and Scott held their own, both realizing it was up to them to ensure a successful drive to market.
Johnny kept himself distanced from his brother as much as possible, but it was during the night-time antics of the men that Scott thought he saw a glimpse of the brother he so badly wanted back. It was during the first few nights of the drive, when the inexperienced hands were ‘initiated’ by being dumped, unceremoniously, into a lake, that the old Johnny had returned. The hands were unsure whether Scott fit that description; after all, he was one of the ‘bosses,’ and it wasn’t his first drive. They looked to Johnny, the main man, for guidance, and when Johnny’s face lit up with a grin, the men knew what to do, and Scott Lancer was grabbed, dragged, and thrown into the lake, along with the others.
Scott was a good sport, and remembered when both he and Johnny had been initiated that first time. The care-free look on Johnny’s face told Scott that it was all in fun and good nature.
There were a few other times as well; the night that Johnny brought hot coffee to his none-to-warm brother as he sat with the cattle. Scott was grateful, but was disheartened when Johnny told him he was taking coffee to all the men. ‘You ain’t nothin’ special, Brother,’ Johnny said before storming off.
Finally, the cattle were brought to market and top dollar was received. All the men had done a great job, and Johnny and Scott commended them. When they were finally alone, the ‘old’ Johnny returned, if only for a moment, as he told his brother, ‘Scott, you did one helluva job. I’m proud of you. I’ll tell the Old Man to give you a raise,’ then playfully slapped Scott’s back. Scott relished in the moment, but just as quickly, Johnny turned back into the hollow, unfeeling stranger of the past few months.
As was tradition, the drinks for the men were courtesy of Johnny, and he and Scott joined them in the saloon for one last drink before the return to Lancer. As they relaxed for a few minutes before the journey home, a man from the telegraph office came in and asked for a Mr. Lancer. Scott, being closest, accepted the telegram, and he and Johnny shared a concerned look.
Teresa? The thought unspoken between them.
Scott hurriedly ripped open the envelope, and after a few seconds, announced to his anxious brother that Teresa was fine. However, a frown formed on the blond’s handsome face as he relayed to Johnny that their father was instructing them to travel to Pace, a good three days ride north, to discuss a contract with Mr. Nelson, a friend of Murdoch’s.
Neither Scott nor Johnny were pleased with this turn of events; as a matter of fact, they were downright pissed. They were tired, dirty, and Johnny missed his wife and kids. And they were both anxious to see how Teresa was fairing.
But the Mighty One was not to be disobeyed, so after thanking the hands and sending them on their way, Scott and Johnny Lancer rode off to Pace. Alone.
There would be no one around for Johnny to hide behind. He would have to converse with his brother, or it would be a lonely, quiet trip.
And it was. During the three-day journey, Scott had tried to make conversation. Johnny would answer in one or two-word sentences, and speak only when necessary. Discussion included the direction they would take the next day, what to eat for dinner, and of course, the always safe topic of the weather.
When the Lancer brothers arrived in Pace, they learned that Mr. Nelson had been in Europe for the past four months, and wasn’t due back until Christmas. Scott and Johnny began to smell a rat, and their feeling was confirmed when a telegram was hand-delivered to them. It was from Murdoch, stating the deal was off and for them to return home. Both Lancer sons knew what their old man was up to: keep them out on the trail, alone, and sooner or later, they would have to come to terms with their differences.
It would take at least five days to reach the safety and comfort of Lancer. They agreed to spend the night in Pace, have a good meal, a hot bath, and enjoy the comforts of a proper bed. But to Johnny’s dismay, he learned the hotel had only one room available, with two beds, which meant the brothers would have to share a room.
Well, we may share a room, but that doesn’t mean I have to do any talkin’, Johnny mumbled to himself.
Scott was hopeful that after the meal, bath, and the comfort of the hotel room, Johnny would begin to open up. But he was dismayed when his brother stayed in the hotel restaurant, drinking, until 2 am. Scott was awake enough to be aware of his brother’s return, and his question of “Are you all right?” was answered with a mumbled, “I’m fine. Go to sleep,” by Johnny.
Perturbed beyond words, Scott sighed, rolled over, and tried to sleep. His brother, on the other hand, slept soundly, thanks to the tequila he inhaled throughout the evening.
Because of Johnny’s unaccustomed hangover, the first day of the return trip was understandably subdued. Scott knew that this day, his brother didn’t feel like talking, so he didn’t push the issue. Nor did he try to converse that evening, and Johnny was ‘out like a light’ right after dinner.
With only a few days remaining, however, Scott knew that it was now or never: that if he and his brother didn’t resolve their differences before returning home, they never would. And Scott couldn’t imagine life at Lancer without the love, support, and camaraderie of his brother.
The next few days weren’t much better, though Johnny, who was feeling better, was a bit more talkative. And the brothers did share a light moment, when, during the heat of the day, they stripped their clothing and swam in the cool, refreshing lake that Scott had been ‘initiated’ in by the hands. They even dunked one another and had a swimming race, but once they dried off, dressed, and prepared their evening dinner, Johnny returned to his cold, sullen self.
Scott Lancer had had quite enough. This time tomorrow, they would be back at Lancer, the opportunity for a reconciliation, if you will, lost forever. Scott knew he had to do something. The time had come.
The time to regain the trust, and the love, of his brother.
If it was possible. . . . .
THE DEFINING MOMENT
“Johnny, we need to talk. I can’t go on like this, with your attitude towards me. I know you’re upset with the events of the past five years, but. . .”
“Upset? No, Scott. I’m not upset. Angry, confused, and hurt, definitely hurt. But upset? Why would you even think that?” Johnny’s voice was soft. But angry.
“Look, I know it’s hard for you to understand, but, believe me, I never meant to hurt you. To hurt any of you. I just had something to do, and. . . .”
“Yeah, well, I’ve had plenty to do too, these past five years,” Johnny’s voice was heavy with emotion, the likes of which Scott had never heard. “And I did it all on my own, no help from you. I nearly died. . .twice. Jelly. . .Jelly, he. .he died in my arms. I got married on a whim, and had two kids. I went on three cattle drives. I watched Teresa cry all the time over not being able to have a baby, and I heard her depressed rantings at Sara because Sara could have babies. My. . .our father. . .became addicted to pain pills and I sat with him while he had back surgery, and I sat with him during his recovery, and I visited him every other weekend in San Francisco while he had physical therapy. As well as everything else that went on. And where the hell were you? What were you doing? Living in your grandfather’s mansion, probably beddin’ down every whore from Boston to New York. . . .”
And at that, Scott gave his brother a right hook the younger man would never forget.
As Johnny lay on the ground, stunned, Scott tore into him.
“I was so wrong about you. . .if anyone, I thought you would be the one who would understand, who would harbor no resentment. But I was wrong. You’re nothing but a spoiled kid who pouts and whines when he doesn’t get his way. And all this time, I worried about. . . ”
Scott never finished. “You son of a bitch!” Johnny yelled, as he plowed into his brother, returning the right hook he received a few moments earlier. And for the next several minutes, the Lancer brothers hit, punched, moaned, groaned, and threw one another into bushes, trees, and the onto the ground. And when it was over, two physically, and emotionally, exhausted men lay side by side, breathless, nursing their own wounded pride.
After several minutes, Scott managed to crawl over to his canteen. He opened it, took a drink that dripped down his chin, then began to pour it over his sweaty, bruised face. He realized Johnny hadn’t moved; concerned, he crawled over to him, lifted his head, and gave him a drink of the cool, refreshing water.
“You all right, Brother?” Scott asked, anguish in his voice.
“Been better,” came the mumbled response. “I forgot about your right hook. . .I think that one was worse than the one you gave me that day. . .by the creek.”
“We never got to finish that fight. Guess we didn’t have a reason to, until now,” Scott dejectedly responded.
After a few minutes, the boys began moving about, with soft groans coming from both of them. As Johnny drank from his own canteen, firmly holding his ribs, he asked his brother, “Now what? Is it up to me, to accept things, to forgive?”
“Can you? Can you accept the fact that five years ago I left Lancer and stayed away, but that now I’m back? Can you accept that?”
“I can accept it, Scott. Just don’t know if I can forgive. I guess maybe, if so much hadn’t happened, if life hadn’t been so damn complicated. Or maybe, if you had just written once, or twice. See, the thing is. . . .”
Johnny stopped before he completed his thought.
“What?” Scott asked, curiously.
“I. . .I can’t help feel that you stayed away because of. . . . .me” the last word barely audible.
“Why would you think that? There’s no truth to that at all,” Scott announced, anger and amazement in his voice.
“I just thought. . .well, I thought maybe after you went back to Boston, got back around your fancy friends and fancy houses, that well, you had no use for Lancer anymore, especially for a. . .half-breed gun hawk like me for a brother.”
Scott gently placed his hands on the trembling shoulders of his brother, the first time he had touched Johnny since that less than enthusiastic hug upon his return in June. Johnny seemed to welcome the touch.
“Johnny,” Scott gently explained, “that is so. . .not true. I thought of nothing but you, of all of you. And Lancer. But especially. . .you. The short notes I received from Murdoch mentioned nothing about you, and very little about what was going on at Lancer. Murdoch told me you asked him not to tell me anything.”
“That’s right. I felt that if you wanted to know, you would contact us. . .contact me. . .”
Scott knew the time was now. . . .to try to find some way to explain, as gently as he could, why he stayed away. He spoke quietly, slowly, searching for the right words, his voice heavy with emotion.
“After my grandfather’s funeral, I was all ready to come home. I had my bags packed, had my ticket, I was getting ready to wire Murdoch to be expecting me. But then, well, things happened. It’s a long story, but I discovered that my grandfather was a horrible man. I always knew he was a shrewd businessman, but I never dreamed he was capable of doing the things that he did. .”
“What did he do, Scott?” Johnny asked quietly, curiously, but most of all, concerned.
“He hurt people, used people. Innocent people that he thought had wronged him in some way. There was one family in particular. . . .a man and his wife, and their child. A son. My grand. . .Old Man Garrett. . . .was under the sick impression that this man had wronged him, and he wanted revenge. Even back then, in the early 50’s, he was powerful. And with his persuasion, and his money, he literally destroyed a family. He had a wonderful, beautiful young woman committed to a life of agony; had her locked up in a place worse than a prison—had her placed in an institution for the insane. He was able to have the child removed from the love and safety of his father’s home, and made it difficult for the man to prosper financially.
I found out about the lady, her name was Mary. Mary Lancaster. At least that’s the name Old Man Garrett gave her when he had her. . . committed. No one seemed to know her real name. When I met her, she was practically an animal, having lived like one for almost 20 years. With the help of some doctors and a wonderful nurse named Celia, Mary came to live with me, in the mansion, where I took care of her. Although she was never the same, the last five years of her life were comfortable, and when she died in April, she was content and she knew she was not alone.”
Johnny was silent, taking in the story his brother had slowly, and sadly, relayed to him. But he was confused. “You could’ve told us, Scott. Would’ve saved us a lot of worryin. . .”
“Would you have understood?”
“I don’t know. . .I think it’s a noble thing you did, but it seems like such a big sacrifice, staying away from your family to take care of some lady you didn’t even know,” Johnny expressed his feeling of doubt.
“I know. It’s just, I was so ashamed. I. . .I felt dirty. . .every time I think, even now, that I’m a part of Old Man Garrett, that his blood is in me, I cringe. He was a despicable, spiteful old man, and I just don’t want to be anything like him,” Scott had to hold back tears and he shivered with disgust at the thought of being related to Harlan Garrett.
This time it was Johnny who gently took Scott by the shoulders, and looked at him with the sapphire eyes that were welling with tears, but yet, brimming with love.
“Scott, you’re nothing like Garrett. You are the kindest, gentlest, most unselfish person I know. And understanding. Hell, you accepted me after all. What you did for that lady, Mary, well, I don’t quite understand it, I wasn’t there. But the point is, you helped her. You gave her back some sort of life, her dignity. And you were with her when she died. That was an honorable thing to do, Brother.”
After a pause, Johnny told his brother one more thing.
“And remember, there is more of Murdoch Lancer’s blood in you than Harlan Garrett’s. . .and Murdoch Lancer gave both his sons noble blood.”
Scott smiled a little at that thought, but then turned serious. “It was difficult, and heart breaking. And I knew it was hard on all of you, I knew my absence was tearing you apart. I only hoped that all of you would go on, and be happy. I guess you did. . . .”
“We went on, Scott. But it wasn’t all happy. . . .”
“I know. And I’m sorry I wasn’t there to share everything with you. But I’ve thought a lot about it, and if I had to do it all over again, I would. For Mary Lancaster needed somebody. She needed me. And I gave her what I had to give. My love. With the knowledge that my family back home would understand, and accept my decision. No questions asked.”
Johnny bowed his head at that statement of confidence from his brother that his family would understand. That he would understand.
“I’m sorry. . .” Johnny softly said, ashamed.
“No, Johnny. I’m sorry,” Scott gently replied.
And then they embraced. . . .
They sat for a long time, staring at the stars, as if a peace had come to the both of them. Finally, Johnny spoke.
“Scott, how old was Mary? When she died, I mean?”
“I’m not really sure, the. . .institution was never sure of her birthdate. But they estimated she was born around 1827, which would have made her about 48 years old.”
“And you say Garrett had her. . .committed. . .around 1849, or 1850?”
“Yes. I believe it was October of 1850.”
“Because he wanted revenge against her husband?”
Scott smirked. “Some revenge, huh? Old Man Garrett should have died years ago, he didn’t deserve the precious gift of life.”
“I wonder what ever became of her husband and son,” Johnny said, more to himself than to Scott.
But his brother answered. “I don’t know. It was said her son died, and I never heard anything of her husband,” Scott’s white lie to his brother. “But they were with her when she died, in her heart. And I know she loved them.”
After another silence, Johnny again spoke.
“Was Mary. . . .was she. . .American? I mean, was she born and raised in Boston? Or was she, you know, foreign? Or an immigrant, like Murdoch was?”
Scott studied his brother very carefully, and realized that the instincts of the younger man may have been putting two and two together.
“No, she wasn’t American. I think she was. . . Spanish or something. She had a dark complexion, and had the most beautiful big, almost black eyes. . . . .”
“Did she ever tell you what. . .her boys name was?” Johnny asked, slowly, with a tinge of apprehension in his voice.
Scott knew he had to answer this question carefully. Very carefully.
Slowly and quietly he responded. “Yeah, and it’s funny. It was the same as yours. John. But then, that’s a common name, you know?”
“Yeah, a common name,” Johnny’s voice could barely be heard.
“I told her I had a brother named John, but he liked to be called Johnny. I told her how handsome you are, and how kind. .and mischievous. I showed her a picture of you, and I think that for a minute, she was absolutely breathless!
And I told her about. . .our father. About the disappointments he suffered through the years, but how he never gave up hope. I told her about the beautiful legacy he worked all his life for to give to his sons, and how finally, they were together.
At least for a while. . . . .”
“Did she understand what you told her, Scott?”
“Oh yes, she truly did. She understood. . .everything. Do you know what the last thing she said to me was?”
“Go to them. They need you. And you need them. Johnny, I know that the death of a person can hardly be called a beautiful thing, but yet, the death of. . .Mary. . .truly was. She was at peace, I think, for the first time in her life. I know she felt the presence of her long-lost husband and. . .son. . .around her.”
Johnny didn’t miss the emotion in the voice of his brother.
After a few more minutes of a healing silence, Johnny rose.
“Where are you going?”
“Just down to the river, Scott, I need to clear my head a little, that’s all.”
“Well, be careful, Johnny. You know you don’t like walking in the dark.”
A small smile appeared on Johnny’s face. “Still watchin’ my back, huh Brother?” the title used with some affection.
“Always. Never stopped, and never will,” came the thoughtful reply.
As Scott watched Johnny walk into the darkness, he wondered just how much his brother comprehended; he wondered if Johnny accepted the story that he had taken care of a sick woman because he felt guilt over his grandfather’s actions, or, as was suspected, Johnny read through the lines and picked up the hints that he had tried so gently to give. And if Johnny did suspect that Mary Lancaster was, indeed, his mother, would Johnny hate his sibling for not being informed of her fate, or would Johnny accept it as a part of his life, as he had so many things?
Or would he wonder anything at all?
Scott dozed, not wanting to sleep until he knew his brother had safely returned. Johnny’s gentle rustling of the ground and his long sigh as he laid down on his bedroll alerted Scott to his presence.
“Hey. . .everything all right?” Scott gently inquired.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” was Johnny’s typical answer.
Scott’s eyes became heavy and he was just about asleep, when the soft voice of his brother awoke him.
“Thank you, Scott.”
“For what?” Scott was slightly puzzled.
“For taking care of Mary. For being there for her. I’m glad that she. . .she. .wasn’t alone when she died. No one deserves that. You’re a good man, you know?”
Scott didn’t know how to respond. He could only say, “Thanks.”
After a short silence, Johnny spoke once more.
“I loved her, you know.”
“Who?” Scott asked, this time totally confused.
“My. . .my mother. She was so beautiful, you know, with that long brown hair and her light brown eyes. Murdoch always refers to them as being almost black, but he’s so wrong. You see, my mama had the lightest brown hair and the most beautiful light brown eyes. And she was a good singer. She told me she used to be an actress, that she actually acted on a stage. She would’ve made a good one if she would’ve pursued it. But she told me if it was between being an actress and being my mama, she would choose being my mama.”
After a pause, Johnny continued. “You know, it’s funny. I always got the feeling that somehow, I was given to her, that she didn’t really have me. She never talked about me bein’ born, or nothing. Just said I was given to her one day. Course, Murdoch filled me in on that though, just before Mariah was born. But still, I always wondered. . . . .”
He knows! Scott cried to himself. My God, he knows!!!. . . .
“Anyway, don’t know what made me think of her. I just felt like tellin’ you about her. Like you told me about Mary. And I’m really sorry, Scott. I never should have doubted you. I should have accepted your explanation, that you did what you had to do. I’ll never doubt you again. I promise.”
After a moment, Johnny asked, “Have. . .have you talked to Murdoch about any of this?”
“No. He never asked, and I never volunteered.”
“Good. I think this whole night should be kept between you and me. And I also think. . .it should never be spoken of again. What’s done is done. And what’s past is past.”
“I agree,” Scott answered.
Johnny started to laugh. “God, I sound like our old man. Remember that first day, in the study?”
“I’ll never forget that moment as long as I live,” Scott laughed back. Then more seriously, he added, “I’ll never forget the feeling that was going through me, realizing I had the. . .little brother. . .I always wanted.”
“I know. . .I kinda felt that way too, about the big brother I always wanted,” Johnny offered in response.
The silence of the night again engulfed the two brothers, and just as Scott was about to fall into a grateful, contented sleep, his brother’s soft voice once again broke through the stillness of the night.
“Ti emo, Hermano Scott.”
“Ti emo, Hermano Johnny. Tiemo. . .”
And with that, Scott and Johnny Lancer fell asleep under the moon, under the stars, and under the canopy of brotherly love and understanding.
And most of all, Trust.
January 1, 1876, was barely two hours old as Murdoch Lancer sat in front of a warm fire in his huge bedroom, enjoying a late-night Scotch before retiring. The Lancer patriarch was all warm inside, but it wasn’t from the coziness of the fire, or from the Scotch. It was from the knowledge that this night, his entire family was under one roof, celebrating a new year. . . .and a new beginning for the family known as Lancer.
His three grandchildren, Mariah, Little Scott, as he was now known, and Polly, as she was lovingly referred to, were the apples of their granddaddy’s eyes.
His grown children, besides being together for the first time in years, were happy and most of all, healthy. Teresa had recovered from her difficult childbirth experience, and she, Chuck, and Polly could not be happier, especially since they had been contacted by the adoption agency and were planning on adopting a 2-year old boy after the first of the year.
Johnny and Sara were expecting. . . again. . .in May, and Murdoch joked that cattle drives and having babies seemed to be synonymous with his younger son and his son’s wife.
And at the annual Christmas Eve Dinner, Scott had announced that he had asked Elizabeth Lawson Miller to be his wife, and she had accepted. A late summer wedding was being planned, with Johnny slated to be Best Man; Sara, Matron of Honor; Chuck, an usher; and Teresa, a bridesmaid. The youngsters were involved as well, with Mariah excited to be the flower girl and Little Scott oblivious to the fact he was to be the ring bearer.
But what warmed Murdoch’s heart the most was that his sons were once again brothers in every sense of the word. His plan had apparently worked, for whatever happened on the trail as they returned home from the cattle drive (he didn’t ask, and they didn’t volunteer), had healed their differences; had brought an understanding between them, and a closeness that was never there, not even the first year they had been together.
Oh, there had been a few rough times that first month, with Johnny, as Murdoch surmised, still coming to terms with whatever had occurred between he and Scott on that trip home. But the younger Lancer son had seemed to accept his brother’s explanation, and he told his father that ‘his brother was one hell of a man. . .one he was damn proud to call his brother.’
With his family in place, and a bright future ahead for the Lancer clan, there was one thing left for Murdoch to do: Rid himself of the past.
He had done it once before, shortly after Mariah’s birth, when he knew for sure that Johnny Lancer would stay; when he was assured his son had let go of the ghost of Madrid and could finally begin to live his life. As a Lancer.
So that New Years night in 1873, he retrieved the thick Pinkerton files on Johnny Madrid and burned them. And along with the files, Johnny Madrid was, forever in the mind of Murdoch Lancer, dead. And buried.
He never thought, though, that he would have similar files on Scott, but the information he received from the Pinkerton’s regarding his son’s five-year absence had shed some light in Murdoch’s mind, but brought with them new questions as well.
The final report, which arrived just as the boys were leaving on the drive, answered the questions from the previous reports which Murdoch had asked about Mary Lancaster: the who, what, why, where, and when. Who was she? What had she done to be placed in an institution? Why had Scott sacrificed five years of his life for her? Why didn’t he tell his family about her? And when did Scott finally decide to return home?
The report indicated that Greenhaven Hospital had finally shut its doors, ceasing to exist due to lack of funding, its sordid history as the infamous Greenhaven Institution for the Mentally Insane, and the poor condition of the building itself. With its closing, the files that had been kept secret for so long were made available to any families who may have wanted to learn the history of relatives placed there through the years. After a period of one month, the files, along with the building itself, were burned to the ground, but before the files on Mary Lancaster went up in smoke, they were retrieved by the Agency and compiled in the report to Murdoch.
It was those files that were contained in the final report. Murdoch read with increased horror at how Mary Lancaster (probably a false name, the report said) was committed by one Harlan Garrett in October of 1850. The report continued that Mr. Garrett, a pillar of Boston society and wealth, had feared for his reputation after learning that Miss Lancaster had been raped and impregnated by a business associate of his, and that any ties to the alleged rapist could tarnish Garrett’s stellar reputation. The fact the woman was Mexican made any association with Harlan Garrett that much more detrimental, and he had her committed to ‘keep her quiet.’ The report stated the child she had given birth to died.
Murdoch read about the overdose she was given in 1857 that had left her mentally incompetent, and how she had become, literally, ‘an animal,’ living in filth, until the time she was released to a Mr. Scott Lancer in late July of 1870.
The report continued that Miss Lancaster had been tended to by Mr. Lancer and a female nurse, a Miss Celia Wilson, at the Boston mansion formerly owned by Garrett, until her death this past April.
End of report.
The new questions the report brought with it were both puzzling and horrifying to Murdoch: Was Mary Lancaster his beloved Maria? The timeframe of Maria’s leaving Lancer fit to the tee. Or was it just a coincidence that Garrett had a young Mexican woman committed to an insane asylum? Was Maria’s leaving Lancer caused by Garrett? Had he, in some way, orchestrated her departure? Had Scott found out about the mysterious woman and traveled to Greenhaven to innocently satisfy his curiosity? Or had he discovered that his grandfather had committed an innocent woman, possibly the mother of his brother, to this awful place? And had Scott, out of a feeling of shame, guilt, and love for his brother, taken a vow to ensure that this woman lived the remainder of her days in comfort and dignity, after living in hell for 20 years?
And had Scott resolved not to relay this information to his family, for fear of retribution because of his grandfather’s actions? And to protect the most important person in the world to him, his brother, Johnny?
And what had Scott confessed to Johnny out on the trail? That he had simply taken care of an unfortunate woman who had fallen prey to Harlan Garrett’s evilness, or that he had, in fact, taken care of Maria Lancer, who fell victim to Harlan Garrett’s madness?
If this woman was indeed Maria, Murdoch cursed the soul of Harlan Garrett to eternal hell and damnation, and blessed the soul of Maria to everlasting peace and love.
And he blessed the person that was Scott Garrett Lancer with tears of gratefulness, love, and respect, for what he had done. Regardless of whom Mary Lancaster really was.
And he blessed the person that was John Ian Lancer, beloved son of Maria, who may have possibly been raised by a woman who was not his mother.
This brought more questions to Murdoch’s troubled mind. If Maria hadn’t raised Johnny, then who did? Murdoch had learned over the past few years, as he and Johnny talked more openly about Maria and her role as wife and mother, that there were discrepancies when Johnny spoke of her, such as her light brown eyes when Maria’s were black, or the fact she told Johnny she had once been an actress, which Maria never had relayed to Murdoch. But he put these down as the faded memories of a child, or the belief in a tale told to him. Most specifically, however, was Johnny’s mention that his mother was left-handed when indeed, Maria Lancer had suffered an injury to her left hand as a child and had limited mobility in it. This revelation had always puzzled Murdoch, but again, he put it down to clouded and confused childhood memories.
But now, Murdoch realized he had to put those questions and discrepancies out of his mind, for Johnny had loved the woman whom he had known as his mother. And for Murdoch to question that love, or to betray the trust Johnny had regained in his brother, or to make light of Scott’s five-year sacrifice, was out of the question.
So Murdoch decided to let it all die. He placed the thick leather-bound Pinkerton files into the hot, burning fire, and watched them burn, along with the questions that would never be answered.
And perhaps, never should be. . . . .
As the roaring fire turned into a small flame, and the embers of the reports turned into innocent dust, Murdoch knew that the past was truly gone forever, never to hurt his family again.
With his mind removed of its heavy burden, Murdoch made his way to bed and as he did so, the sounds of laughter coming from the great room, the laughter of his ‘children’ as they continued to celebrate the New Year, brought him a feeling of peace, joy, and contentment.
And for the first time in his life, Murdoch Lancer knew that he had what he always had wanted: his precious family together, happy, and knowing a bright future was ahead for all of them.
And what else could a man ask for?
Yes, it really is this time!!!
Hope you enjoyed it. You didn’t think I would keep ‘our boys’ apart, did you!!??